Q&A: Julia Cameron on Faith and Will

Andrea Miller talks to Julia Cameron about her new book, Faith and Will, as well as about her classic bestseller, The Artist’s Way.

Andrea Miller
7 June 2009

In this exclusive Q&A, Andrea Miller talks to Julia Cameron about her new book, Faith and Will, as well as about her classic bestseller, The Artist’s Way.

Cameron’s passion has long been delving into the whys and wherefores of the creative process, and she is continuing to do so. In Faith and Will she explores the connection between creativity and spirituality and provides readers with an intimate look at her own life. This is the first interview we’ve done with Cameron since she graced our cover in May 1998.

Some people see your book The Artist’s Way as a Christian book, and some people see it as Buddhist and other people see it as a Sufi. Do you identify with one tradition in particular?

No, I don’t identify with a particular tradition and it’s always wonderful for me when people say, “Ah, it’s Sufi!” or “Ah, it’s Buddhist!” I’m delighted that the book is able to serve so many different communities.

Since your new book regards faith and will, I’m wondering, what do these two concepts mean in your life? Why are they important to you?

Quite selfishly it comes down to a matter of comfort. If we have faith and if our will is aligned with the higher power’s will, we have a degree of comfort. If we’re lacking in either faith or correctly aligned will we are very uncomfortable. You see, as events unfold we have a choice whether we fight with events or accept events. I think that acceptance yields us a much smoother path, even though it at first feels very difficult. Making this difficult choice of whether to fight or to accept is correctly aligned will. I have a friend who has lymphoma and she’s had it for three years and she has to undergo a lot of chemotherapy. She says that the reason she is able to withstand it is that she basically has an attitude of acceptance.

Do you think these two concepts, faith and will, are equally important to people in all spiritual traditions?

Yes, I do. It doesn’t matter what tradition you are in, as you still have to face what we would call the human condition. The human condition is an uncomfortable place to be, unless we have faith and good will. The human condition requires that we look at the glass as half full, because it’s so easy to look at life the other way. When we look at life as half empty we are tempted to despair, and I would say that despair is the great sin.  It is a tempting sin.

It ironic that we are tempted to despair. I think a really attractive person is tempting, or a piece of cake. Why do you think despair is tempting?

We live in a culture that is soaked in despair. When we see the news, they don’t show us good news.  We’re tutored in the negative. I’d be hard put to say that anything positive comes out of the negative. So it’s easy to despair.

What do you think is the difference between spirituality and religion, or do you think there is one?

I tend to think in terms of spirituality, which is probably why so many different traditions relate to what I say. Religion is more dogmatic than spirituality, and it’s perhaps more narrow and more convinced of its rectitude. Spirituality is an experience of God as opposed to a theory about God.

You have written various books, many of which are on spirituality and creativity. How would you sum up the connection between spirituality and creativity?

I have a hard time separating the two. I would say that as we become more spiritual we automatically become more creative, and as we become more creative we automatically become more spiritual. I’m not sure why that is. It just seems to me to be a fact, something that I’ve observed in over twenty-five years of teaching. And to be facile I might say it’s God’s will for us to be creative.

And what, who, is this God?

Well, I don’t think I can define that. I think I can experience God. But God is perhaps beyond definition. I might say something like it’s a greater benevolent something, something that is inclined to be kindly toward us. God is a creative force in and of itself.

Can creativity ever be selfish?

We have a mythology that tells us creativity is selfish. We are tutored to believe that artists are self-centered, but I think that as we experience our creativity, we experience a sense of expansion that is in fact the opposite of selfish. There’s a wonderful quote from Henry Miller about experiencing all of life in order to be creative. He urges us to experience life deeply. In other words, to be the opposite of self centered; to take an interest in people, places and things. If we all had full access to the creative impulses in us the world would be a much more benign and festive place.

But you wouldn’t go so far as to say the world’s problems would be solved. Do you think that other capacities must also be present in order for all of the many problems that the world has, to be solved?

If you are creative you experience a sense of generosity, and acting upon feelings of generosity would go a long way toward curtailing the problems in the world. So creativity can engender all of the other necessary qualities.

Do you see spiritual teachers as an integral part of a person’s spiritual development?

Teachers can be very useful. Nothing beats personal experience, and teachers can share their experience, strength, and hope with us. They can sometimes decipher a period that we’re going through, particularly when people go through the dark night of the soul. It’s important to have people who have been there before us. I have a ninety-five-year-old Catholic nun whom I talk to. She was my English teacher in high school. I have many other teachers as well. I have a friend who owns a horse farm, and she is a great teacher to me, and I have another friend who is an actor and a poet, and she is a great teacher to me. One thing that is difficult is that all of my teachers are getting very old. It just follows. They started out being my teacher maybe when they were fifty, and now it is thirty years later. I think I’m a teacher to them as well, in that they enjoy the risks that I take.

What would you say is the best piece of spiritual advice that you ever received, and who gave you this advice?

I like to go to the psalms for advice, and I think that reading through the psalms and reading through Job teaches us a right way to relate to the world. There is a wonderful line from Romans, “I delight in the law of God.” That seems to me to be excellent spiritual advice. It resonates with me because we have been tutored into believing in a God of duty, but what we may really be dealing with is a God of delight. The Romans quote mixes the two together. It is delightful to do our duty.

To read our 1998 interview with Julia Cameron, click here.

Andrea Miller

Andrea Miller

Andrea Miller is the editor of Lion’s Roar magazine. She’s the author of Awakening My Heart: Essays, Articles, and Interviews on the Buddhist Life, as well as the picture book The Day the Buddha Woke Up.